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Confessions of a Career Intern

By Nicole Berckes ’04

Throughout my days at Smith, I’ve become what I like to consider a Career Intern: I’ve worked for the U.S. Senate, CNN, the UN’s International Labor Organization, and am currently working for the advertising firm of McCann-Erickson, but I have yet to make a dime.

Some may find such a pursuit to be totally fruitless. But my internships have offered priceless glimpses into various professions. At first I was as skeptical as the next person (“Free labor?” I thought to myself, “hasn’t that been outlawed for decades?”). But by the end of each internship, I feel as if I should pay them for the experiences and knowledge they have given me.

The summer after my first year at Smith, my parents urged me to apply for the press internship in the office of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida). The idea of taking an entire summer to spend money instead of making it seemed counter-intuitive. Even working for minimum wage at the local supermarket seemed like a better plan. At least I would have netted some sort of a profit at the end of the year.

After submitting a writing sample and resume, I was selected, and had a fabulous summer sending press releases, editing speeches and arranging interviews. The experience intensified my interest in both politics and the media. In the end, it was far more worthwhile than a summer job.

I gained so much from my U.S. Senate internship that I went on to intern at CNN’s Washington bureau during the summer of 2002 and, in my junior year abroad, interned at the U.N.’s International Labor Organization in Switzerland. Currently, I am getting a glimpse of the advertising world by working at the Caribbean office of McCann-Erickson. I’ve been working on accounts for Nestle and Coca-Cola, as well as learning the intricacies of an interesting field.

Some people think a liberal arts education doesn’t prepare you for the real world. I’ve found the opposite to be true. The experiences and lessons I’ve learned at Smith, both in and out of the classroom, have prepared me incredibly well for my internships. I’ve found myself to be better prepared for the rigors of the working world than my fellow interns and was actually accused of “working too hard” by one of them. I simply take the same work ethic that has gotten me through Smith courses and put it toward my internships.

In the end, I’ve gotten a lot more out of my internships because I took them seriously. It’s important to absorb all you can from internship surroundings. Even if you’re only fetching a cup of coffee, make sure to take note of the things going on around you.

To those who are thinking of not applying for an internship because it seems out of reach, go ahead and apply. I had no idea that I would have worked for the U.S. Senate, CNN, a U.N. organization, and a large advertising firm by the age of 22. We have a wealth of resources at Smith that help us to sample potential careers. Had it not been for Smith funding, Praxis, the Career Development Office, and alums, I might have never interned for these places.

It’s because Smith wants us to make a real difference in the world that we are able to pursue and realize such opportunities. Now is the time to test limits, seize new opportunities, and find our passions. Smith has prepared me not only to function in the real world, but also to contribute in a meaningful way to society as a whole.

My days as a Career Intern will eventually come to an end. Because of all my internships, I have become aware of my interests in a range of fields, and realize that the possibilities really are endless.

As I prepare to graduate this May, I’m in the process of applying to various jobs, many in the same fields in which I interned. I am really looking forward to getting an actual job with an actual salary. Alas, my time in the non-paying sector has most certainly netted a profit: the things I’ve learned, the confidence I’ve gained, and the friends I’ve made along the way will aid me on the path to any career, no matter what the ultimate destination may be.

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